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World Heritage Convention

Decision 25 BUR V.236-240
Ancient City of Sigiriya (Sri Lanka)

V.236     The Bureau noted the information received from the State Party in February 2001 concerning proposed plans for the expansion of a military airport within 2 km of Sigiriya. The national authorities had stated that the airport, if and when constructed, would negatively impact upon the site through:

  • Sonic vibrations which would cause damage to ancient wall plasters with paintings and inscriptions, as well as to the rock surface which is already peeling.
  • Aircraft-generated pollution that would damage the above-mentioned wall plaster and rock surface.

V.237     The Centre informed the Bureau of the findings of the Reactive Monitoring Mission to the site in March 2001, which had been urgently organised at the request of the national authorities. The mission undertaken by the Deputy Director of the Centre together with an international airport planning engineer seconded from the Aeroports de Paris under the France-UNESCO Agreement, held detailed discussions with the national and military officials concerned. ICOMOS had been invited to participate but was unable to do so due to the very short notice of the mission. However, ICOMOS-Sri Lanka was consulted during the mission.

V.238     The Bureau noted with deep concern, the findings of the UNESCO Reactive Monitoring Mission, which concluded that:

(a)      the proposed extension of the Sigiriya airport to serve as the principal base for fighter jets would undermine the character of the World Heritage site, notably due to security risks of enemy attack and air and noise pollution which will not only impact negatively on the fragile structure of the monuments and the wall paintings, but also on the flora and fauna of the natural reserves located along the flight path, and;

(b)      the technical study prepared by the airport planner recommended that the national authorities consider the expansion of the Hingurakgoda airstrip which is in better condition, hence less costly to upgrade and more appropriate for eventual use as a commercial airport.

V.239     The Bureau expressed appreciation for the rapid deployment of the Reactive Monitoring Mission to Sigiriya. While noting the national security concerns of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Bureau requested the State Party to reconsider the proposed expansion of the Sigiriya airport and to provide a report on decisions taken by the Government in this regard, by 15 September 2001, to the Secretariat for consideration by the Committee at its twenty-fifth session.

V.240     The Observer of Sri Lanka expressed his Government’s deep gratitude to the Director and Deputy Director of the World Heritage Centre, and the French Government, for swiftly responding to the request for an urgent mission to be undertaken to examine the proposed plans for expanding the military airport of Sigiriya. The Bureau was informed that the Recommendations of the UNESCO Mission have been placed before the Government for its consideration.  

Decision Code
25 BUR V.236-240
States Parties 1
State of conservation reports
2001 Ancient City of Sigiriya
Context of Decision